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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday January 25 2009 - (813)

Sunday January 25 2009 edition
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Obama To Quickly Tighten Financial Regulatory Rules
2009-01-25 03:00:26
The Obama administration plans to move quickly to tighten the nation’s financial regulatory system.

Officials say they will make wide-ranging changes, including stricter federal rules for hedge funds, credit rating agencies and mortgage brokers, and greater oversight of the complex financial instruments that contributed to the economic crisis.

Broad new outlines of the administration’s agenda have begun to emerge in recent interviews with officials, in confirmation proceedings of senior appointees and in a recent report by an international committee led by Paul A. Volcker, a senior member of President Obama's economic team.

A theme of that report, that many major companies and financial instruments now mostly unsupervised must be swept back under a larger regulatory umbrella, has been embraced as a guiding principle by the administration, said officials.

Some of these actions will require legislation, while others should be achievable through regulations adopted by several federal agencies.

Officials said they want rules to eliminate conflicts of interest at credit rating agencies that gave top investment grades to the exotic and ultimately shaky financial instruments that have been a source of market turmoil. The core problem, they said, is that the agencies are paid by companies to help them structure financial instruments, which the agencies then grade.

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Iraq Election Highlights Ascendancy Of Tribes
2009-01-25 02:59:24
In rugged western Iraq, once the bastion of the insurgency against the American occupation and now a freewheeling arena of electoral politics steeped in payola, the conversation in the tribal guest house in Anbar province was the equivalent of a stump speech.

"If anything happens to any of our candidates, even a scratch on one of their bodies, we will kill all of their candidates!" bellowed Hamid al-Hais, a tribal leader and party boss whose voice was like his build - husky, coarse and forceful.

"That's right," shouted another sheik, who had suggested - in jest, inshallah - that a friend resolve a dispute by strapping on explosives and blowing himself up.

"Of course!" yelled another, who had accused the governor of urinating on Anbar.

"We'll break all the ballot boxes on their heads!" Hais declared, wagging a finger.

Part sheik and part showman, with a dose of barroom humor, Hais leads a party that has helped make Iraq's provincial elections this month the first truly competitive vote in Sunni Muslim lands since the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003. By all accounts, that is a good thing. But the results of next Saturday's ballot may say less about the campaigns themselves than about the political geography of Anbar, where tribes, sprawling clans steeped in tradition and courted by the U.S. military, enjoy more power than at any time since the Iraqi monarchy was toppled half a century ago.

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Editorial: Uphold The Voting Rights Act
2009-01-25 02:55:29
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Satuday, January 24, 2009.

Some people claim that Barack Obama’s election has ushered in a “postracial” America, but the truth is that race, and racial discrimination, are still very much with us. The Supreme Court should keep this reality in mind when it considers a challenge to an important part of the Voting Rights Act that it recently agreed to hear. The act is constitutional - and clearly still needed.

Section 5, often called the heart of the Voting Rights Act, requires some states and smaller jurisdictions to “preclear” new voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. When they do, they have to show that the proposed change does not have the purpose or effect of discriminating against minority voters.

When Congress enacted Section 5 in 1965, officials in the South were creating all kinds of rules to stop blacks from voting or being elected to office. Discrimination against minority voters may not be as blatant as it was then, but it still exists. District lines are drawn to prevent minorities from winning; polling places are located in places hard for minority voters to get to; voter ID requirements are imposed with the purpose of suppressing the minority vote.

After holding lengthy hearings to document why the Voting Rights Act was still needed, Congress reauthorized it in 2006 with votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House. Now, a municipal utility district in Texas that is covered by Section 5 is arguing that it is unconstitutional, and that it imposes too many burdens on jurisdictions covered by it.

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Jet's Left Engine May Have Hit A Soft Body
2009-01-25 02:54:08
The battered, dented left engine of the US Airways jetliner that ditched in the Hudson River in New York City shows evidence of hitting a soft body, federal safety investigators said Saturday night.

No evidence of organic material was detected in a visual inspection by National Transportation Safety Board   investigators after the engine was finally pulled 65 feet from the river bottom on Friday.

The pilot reported the plane hit a flock of birds shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport which shut down both his jets.

This engine and the right engine, which remained attached to the Airbus A-320 after the Jan. 15 ditching, will be shipped to their manufacturer, CFM International, in Cincinnati for thorough examination by safety board investigators. Both engines will be completely torn down to examine damage, and advanced equipment will be used to search for organic material not apparent during visual inspection.

The safety board also said the left engine had dents on its inlet lip and broken and missing guide vanes.

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Some Firms That Got Bailout Money Keep Lobbying For More
2009-01-24 14:47:29
The financial giant Bank of America says it is no longer lobbying the federal government about its unfolding bank bailout. After receiving $45 billion in bailout money, lobbying was just too unseemly.

“We are very sensitive to the fact that we have taxpayer money,” said Shirley Norton, a spokeswoman for the company.

Citigroup, recipient of another $45 billion, made the opposite call. While trying to keep a low profile, the company is still fielding an army of Washington, D.C., lobbyists working on a host of issues, including the bailout. In the fourth quarter, it spent $1.77 million on lobbying fees, according to its lobbyists’ filings.

The different approaches from the two banks that have received the most money underscores the growing dilemma facing private companies, which increasingly deal with the federal government not only as rule-maker but also as shareholder, lender and trading partner.

Pressing federal policy makers risks the appearance of recycling public money to advance a private agenda, while staying on the sidelines could put a company at a comparative disadvantage.

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Insurance Industry Tied To Deteriorating Banks
2009-01-24 14:47:09

The financial markets' downward spiral has drawn the nation's life insurers into its vortex, reducing the already depressed value of industry stocks by a third since early this month and fueling concerns that the condition of some companies could deteriorate in the months ahead.

A Dow Jones index of U.S. life insurance stocks has fallen 32.3 percent since Jan. 6 and almost twice that amount since September. Analysts have warned - and regulators fear - that some companies might need to shore up their capital at a time when it has become difficult to borrow or issue additional stock. Meanwhile, the industry has been lobbying regulators for permission to keep less money in reserve to pay benefits and absorb financial shocks.

Yesterday, the Standard & Poor's credit rating service downgraded AFLAC, citing the insurer's investments in banks and other financial institutions that are also deteriorating. Weakness in the broader financial sector could "negatively impact the company's capitalization and financial flexibility," Standard & Poor's analyst Shellie Stoddard wrote.

AFLAC, a big provider of disability coverage, said it was confident in the quality of its balance sheet and did not foresee a need for additional capital.

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Credit Crisis Is Leaving U.S. Charities Low On Cash
2009-01-24 14:46:11

SCO Family of Services, a nonprofit agency based on Long Island, New York, started the year with a $25 million credit line at its bank, which it planned to use to pay its bills while awaiting government reimbursements and donations.

Now, after its bank has cut its credit line twice and withdrawn a promise to support a critical bond offering, the organization is worried about whether it can pay its employees this month.

“I spend a good part of my day every day just trying to manage cash flow,” said Johanna Richman, chief financial officer at SCO, which provides services to children with developmental disabilities.

SCO is one of hundreds of charities caught in the credit crunch as skittish banks reduce their lines of credit or cut them off entirely at a time when the need for their services is climbing sharply, say nonprofit leaders.

“While nonprofits are working feverishly to accommodate increased demand, they are facing severe financial constraints that are threatening their ability to go on, much less expand their services,” said Diana Aviv, president and chief executive of Independent Sector, a nonprofit trade association.

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Six California Men Charged In $52 Million Investment Scam
2009-01-24 14:45:32
Six Orange County, California, men face criminal fraud charges in an alleged $52-million investment scam that was said to promise big profits from luxury developments next to golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

The criminal cases, filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court by the office of California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, follow civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the operators of Irvine-based Carolina Development Co.

"This is a very serious case, an unusually large fraud," Brown said in an interview. The defendants "callously conned" more than 1,000 people, including retirees, he said.

The SEC in 2007 won a $29.2-million judgment against Carolina's president, Lambert Vander Tuig, and a $2.1-million judgment against the vice president, Jonathan Carman.

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Radio Spreads Taliban's Terror Message In Pakistan Region
2009-01-25 03:00:03
Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to listen and learn might lead to a lashing - or a beheading.

Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most nights outlines newly proscribed “un-Islamic” activities in Swat, like selling DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban, shaving beards and allowing girls to attend school. He also reveals names of people the Taliban have recently killed for violating their decrees - and those they plan to kill.

“They control everything through the radio,” said one Swat resident, who declined to give his name for fear the Taliban might kill him. “Everyone waits for the broadcast.”

International attention remains fixed on the Taliban’s hold on Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas, from where they launch attacks on American forces in Afghanistan but, for Pakistan, the loss of the Swat Valley could prove just as devastating.

Unlike the fringe tribal areas, Swat, a Delaware-size chunk of territory with 1.3 million residents and a rich cultural history, is part of Pakistan proper, within reach of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the capital.

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Obama Presents A Challenge For Al-Qaeda
2009-01-25 02:56:48

Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader took stock of America's new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. "A house Negro," said Ayman al-Zawahiri.

That was just a warm-up. In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a "hypocrite," a "killer" of innocents, an "enemy of Muslims." He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office.

"He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection," an al-Qaeda spokesman declared in a grainy Internet video this month.

The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world.

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Pope Benedict XVI Reinstates Four Excommunicated Bishops
2009-01-25 02:54:59
Pope Benedict XVI, reaching out to the far-right of the Roman Catholic Church, revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops on Saturday, including one whose comments denying the Holocaust have provoked outrage.

The decision provided fresh fuel for critics who charge that Benedict’s four-year-old papacy has increasingly moved in line with traditionalists who are hostile to the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.

A theologian who has grappled with the church’s diminished status in a secular world, Benedict has sought to foster a more ardent, if smaller, church over one with looser faith.

While the revocation may heal one internal rift, it may also open a broader wound, alienating the church’s more liberal adherents and jeopardizing 50 years of Vatican efforts to ease tensions with Jewish groups.

Among the men reinstated Saturday was Richard Williamson, a British-born cleric who in an interview last week said he did not believe that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers. He has also given interviews saying that the United States government staged the Sept. 11 attacks as a pretext to invade Afghanistan.

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Obama Says $820 Billion Economic Stimulus Needed Or Bad Situation Could Get Worse
2009-01-24 14:47:43

President Obama laid out the most detailed benchmarks to date of his massive economic recovery package this morning as he took to the airwaves with urgency, warning in his first weekly presidential radio address that the economy could become dramatically worse without major federal investment.

Obama more fully mapped out what he would do with a recovery package that would cost at least $820 billion and would save or create as many as four million jobs. The new president was to meet with his top economic advisers today, one day after he ramped up his personal lobbying campaign by holding his first bipartisan gathering of congressional leaders.

"Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four," Obama said in Saturday's address. "And we could lose a generation of potential, as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future.

"In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."

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Obama Restores Some Of The 'Freedom' to FOIA
2009-01-24 14:47:17
One curious soul on Feb. 8, 2001, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department.

He or she is still awaiting a reply.

Nearly eight years have passed, making the early 2001 search for information one of the State Department's 10 oldest pending FOIA requests. While extreme, it also reflects how information flow slowed markedly during the Bush administration.

"In the past, it's been difficult even for a public agency like ourselves to obtain information that affects our operations," Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District in Fresno, California, said on Friday.

As one of his first acts, President Barack Obama issued an order reversing his predecessor's approach toward the release of government documents. Scholars, journalists, farmers and the simply curious now await the reopening of federal information taps tightened since 2001.

In fiscal 2007, for instance, the Defense Department completely granted approximately 48 percent of the FOIA requests it processed. In fiscal 1998, by contrast, the Clinton administration's Defense Department completely granted approximately 61 percent of FOIA requests.

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A Health Insurance Premium Sucker Punch For American Workers
2009-01-24 14:46:52

Donna Carter hoped that her savings from lower gas prices would defray rising health insurance costs.

No such luck.

Carter, a technical editor for a District consulting firm and mother of twin boys and a girl, is facing steep increases in out-of-pocket expenses for health coverage this year. What she shells out for premiums and co-pays more than offsets any fuel savings. Her employer picks up 50 percent of the coverage for her family, up from 33 percent a few years ago. But because insurance costs have soared, she says she's actually paying $200 a month more in premiums.

Her co-pays also have risen to $30 from $20. That extra $10 adds up, Carter of Bowie says, with "accident prone" teenagers in and out of the emergency room: Her 19-year-old track star son suffered a lacerated liver, broken rib and concussion when he slipped and fell on wet pavement. Her 16-year-old cheerleader daughter who is asthmatic is in physical therapy three days a week for a dislocated knee. Carter and her other son contribute to the costs with visits to the doctor for serious flare-ups of asthma.

"Once or twice a month, somebody is at the hospital," said Carter, whose policy also covers her husband. "It's very difficult at this point to keep up."

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Infections May Indicate Deadly Bacteria's Comeback
2009-01-24 14:45:49

U.S. federal health officials are concerned that a recent uptick in so-called Hib infections in Minnesota infants may signal a comeback of the deadly bacterium as a consequence of a vaccine shortage and the reluctance of some parents to immunize their children.

Minnesota recorded five cases of infection by Haemophilus influenzae Type B last year, the highest number since 1992, including three in November and December. The death of a 7-month-old was the first Hib fatality in a child there since 1991.

In two cases, parents refused to have their child immunized. In a third, they asked to defer vaccination until the child was 5, long after the shots are usually given.

"Parents need to know this disease is still around and that it is very dangerous," Anne Schuchat, head of immunization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.

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